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Strubel v. Saif Corp.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

March 26, 2019


          OPINION & ORDER

          Ann Aiken, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jack Alfred Strubel Jr. seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") in this action against defendants SAIF Corporation ("SAIF") and Chemeketa Community College. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs Complaint, (doc. 1), is DISMISSED, with leave to amend. The Court defers ruling on plaintiffs Application for Leave to Proceed IFP, (doc. 2), pending submission of an amended complaint. Further, plaintiffs Motion for Appointment of Counsel (doc. 4) is GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART


         Plaintiffs complaint is somewhat limited in terms of factual allegation, though it does appear that plaintiff suffered an injury by falling from a ladder while at Chemeketa Community College. Thereafter, the Court infers that he accessed workers compensation benefits through SAIF. Plaintiff complains that while was able to be examined by a SAIF approved doctor, he was unable to obtain a second opinion from another physician through SAIF. He requests that this Court order SAIF to fix what he styles as misdiagnoses, but the Court infers to be a decision that he could work on modified light duty.


         Generally, all parties instituting any civil action in United States District Court must pay a statutory filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However, the federal IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), provides indigent litigants an opportunity for meaningful access to federal courts despite their inability to pay the costs and fees associated with that access. To authorize a litigant to proceed IFP, a court must make two determinations. First, a court must determine whether the litigant is unable to pay the costs of commencing the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Second, it must assess whether the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         In regard to the second of these determinations, district courts have the power under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints even before service of the complaint on the defendants, and must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim. Courts apply the same standard under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). To survive a motion to dismiss under the federal pleading standards, the complaint must include a short and plain statement of the claim and "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard . . . asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. The court is not required to accept legal conclusions, unsupported by alleged facts, as true. Id.

         Pro se pleadings are held to less stringent standards than pleadings by attorneys. Names v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). That is, the court should construe pleadings by pro se plaintiffs liberally and afford the plaintiffs the benefit of any doubt. Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F, 2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). Additionally, a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the deficiencies in the complaint and the opportunity to amend, unless the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Id.


         There are several issues with plaintiffs Complaint, as currently pleaded. The first and most serious is jurisdictional. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, "possessing only that power authorized by Constitution and statute." Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Federal jurisdiction may be based upon the presence of a federal question or on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. To invoke federal question jurisdiction, a plaintiff must plead that the defendant has violated some constitutional or statutory provision. To establish diversity jurisdiction, a plaintiff must allege that he or she is a citizen of one state, that all the defendants are citizens of other states, and that the damages are more than $75, 000.

         Here, plaintiff alleges that this case involves a federal question, however, his complaint fails to identify any federal statute or constitutional provision under which his claim would fall. In his civil complaint cover sheet, plaintiff identified "Personal Injury - Medical Malpractice" as the nature of his suit, but tort is not an exclusive issue of federal law. Plaintiff also identified "Constitutionality of State Statutes" as a basis of this suit. However, plaintiff fails to point to any specific Oregon statute which may be unconstitutional. Thus, plaintiff has failed to establish jurisdiction pursuant to a federal question at this time.

         Further, it does not appear that diversity jurisdiction is satisfied by the Complaint. Plaintiff does not allege an amount in controversy over $75, 000, and there is not complete diversity between the parties as all reside or are incorporated in the State of Oregon. Also, confusingly, plaintiff checked a box on his civil cover sheet indicating that this action was removed from state court. However, the Court can find no record of a state proceeding based on the information in the complaint.

         Though the Court cannot reach the question due to the nature of the factual allegations in plaintiffs Complaint, if plaintiff is trying to challenge an Oregon state workers compensation decision, then his claim may also be barred under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Federal courts other than the Supreme Court lack the jurisdiction to correct state court judgments. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 483 n. 16 (1983).[1] It is also unclear whether plaintiff pursued any appeals in Oregon state courts before filing the present Complaint.

         Plaintiffs Complaint as currently plead does not adequately state a claim upon which relief may be granted in this Court. Plaintiff is advised that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 provides that a civil complaint should include a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed, R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In this case, the Complaint does not present the details and ...

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